Monday 10 July 2017

The Physical World and the Writer

We tend to think of writing as a very cerebral activity. Writers are often introverts and can frequently be found day-dreaming as they fail to escape from the world they are creating. Many of us would like to stay in our writing rooms, have room service brought along three times a day, and money for our best-sellers delivered straight to our bank accounts. 

However, it doesn't work that way. 

For starters, if you're not in the world, how can you write about it? Secondly, what we write and what we read always relates to the physical world. 

Perhaps most importantly, the very best writing happens when we write with the senses. Often the visual brings the other senses with it; if we picture the sea, we can generally also hear it crashing on to the shore, taste the salt air, feel a sea-breeze and smell the sea-weed. When a writer gives us details like that we enter her world. The film in her head plays out also in ours.

Marcel Proust tried to capture the whole of his life by writing about its physicality. For him taste and smell evoked memories. A little French caked dipped in tea brought him back to his mother.
A detailed, but not necessarily overlong, description of what the world is really like helps us to avoid clichés. Try describing these:
  • What orange-peel looks like
  • What chocolate tastes like
  • What rain feels like
Perhaps we also need to get out of our boxes in order to explore this physical world more closely. If you want to write about the park, go and sit there for a while and even make a few notes.

We often get our best ideas anyway when we are away from our desks. My ideas often come to me when I'm cooking, driving, ironing or walking. We are not alone in this. Archimedes had a Eureka moment in the bath, Pointcaré as he stepped on to a bus and Einstein when he was coming down in the lift.

Yes, the physical world is important to the writer. In fact, we can't do without it.              

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